On the job training or sitting in a classroom?…. Real-world scenarios or hypothetical case studies?…. Working 9 – 5 or socialising with new friends?
Without having gone to University it is difficult for me to completely compare the experience with an apprenticeship and still being early on in my career I can’t tell for certain how my decision will impact me in the future. But what I can tell, is for me, starting an apprenticeship was one of the best decisions I ever made.
The beginning of my journey started at A-levels
When I left school there was a definite expectation that I would go on to complete my A-levels. Working consistently in the top classes of most subjects and predicted GCSE results of predominantly all A’s, surely I would thrive in a similar environment? And when I made that decision I genuinely believed that I would.
After 1st year success at college, I was still confident that I had made the right decision to carry on in a formal educational environment. It’s difficult to pinpoint when my viewpoint did a complete U-turn but I predict it was at the point when I started applying to Russell Group universities and the pressure that came alongside that. University was never in my future plan. However, I felt pressured (do you see a common theme here yet?) to apply “even if you don’t want to go”. However, to me, this was not a motivator. In fact, it had the complete opposite impact on my mentality. It felt like squeezing into a mould that everyone else around me fit nicely into but I was still attempting to get both of my feet in. I was completely in my panic zone.
With so much pressure being put on me by myself, it was no wonder I didn’t reach my predicted results in my second year. However, this ultimately meant I didn’t get into my first choice university…or my second.
It knocked me hard. For someone that didn’t even want to go to university in the first place, the impact of rejection shocked even me.
With no option to retake exams because my results were still classed as “good enough”. My immediate reaction was to start looking for alternative universities, possibly trying to counteract the feeling of rejection with acceptance? Long story short, I was accepted by 3 but I still wasn’t convinced that I was doing the right thing.
I was stuck in this confused state of not knowing what I wanted to for almost a year before I did my first Apprenticeship search. Yes, it took me a year to realise that university wasn’t my only option. This could be partly my fault due to ignorance but after leaving school I was never once told to consider an apprenticeship. Even when I had failed the university route. So surely some blame should be put on an education system that is so narrow-minded, it believes that all students will fit into the university mould?
Starting my apprenticeship
My first day at Mission Performance and the start of my apprenticeship was the beginning of a huge learning curve. Not only was I about to begin my digital marketing journey, I also had the opportunity to learn a huge range of life skills from those I was, and still am, fortunate enough to work alongside every day.
One thing that stood out to me almost immediately about Mission Performance was that at its heart was its people and their stories. Everyone I came into contact with had a unique and extraordinary story. But probably most importantly, there was not a single person with an ego that exceeded the team ethos. Being surrounded by such humble people, that had achieved so much was truly inspirational.
It didn’t take long at all, probably a matter of a few days, to settle into my new job role. With the extra support you get as an apprentice, you’re never thrown in the deep end without armbands. However, you still have enough space to venture into the water a bit and make your own decisions.
This independent learning style suited my need to feel like I was making a real difference to the company. I wasn’t happy just to sit and observe. I wanted to take an active role, which would allow me to learn from hands-on experience as opposed to offsite training. Although you learn some useful theory as a result of sitting in the classroom, personally, I believe a lot of knowledge comes from trial and error. A saying we like to use at Mission Performance, Fail Fast. This means you don’t waste time contemplating the best course of action, instead, you try different methods and if one doesn’t work you quickly move onto the next idea.
It was roughly a month after joining Mission Performance, that I had my first college lesson. I have to say it was nothing like I expected. Unlike when I completed my A-Levels, lessons took place remotely (In Birmingham precisely) and all I had to do was log on and listen in. This brought about its own challenges. Not only did you have to be self-disciplined enough to take notes and make sure that you understood what your tutor was discussing. You also had to make sure that you cleared up anything up that you didn’t quite understand in the discussion box before your tutor moved on to the next subject. Otherwise, it would result in all sorts of confusion.
After my first lesson, I did get the hang of this. It also helped that you could message your tutor direct if you felt uneasy about asking a question when everyone else in the class seemed to understand. Perfect for those that couldn’t think of anything worse than putting their hand up in the middle of the class.
This style of teaching also gave me a lot of flexibility over the way I was working. Due to the nature of apprenticeships and having real responsibilities outside of your college work. Some weeks it was important that I was in office in order to oversee that the projects I was working on ran smoothly. On these rare occasions, I would simply log on to lessons from Mission Performance HQ so that I could be at hand if I was needed. I could also access my lessons and take exams from home in order to eliminate distractions altogether.
Having my say
After just a few months at Mission Performance, I was lucky enough to be invited along to Brathay with the rest of the team. Brathay, which is located in the Lake District, provides bespoke residential programmes for organisations and individuals. They provide a range of programmes such as team development, employee engagement and leadership development, to name just a few. Our main goal was to develop our organisational culture, which consisted of setting our vision, values, mission statement etc.
This gave me a chance to build better relationships with my directors and colleagues. It was also a great way of learning the history of Mission Performance and have an input into its future. This proves just how much, as an apprentice, you are valued by the company you work for. Not only do you have input into everyday tasks but your opinion is also valued enough to shape the team culture.
I am sure that for some this isn’t as obviously demonstrated as it was for me. However, in companies with good intentions, no apprentice should be left to feel any less important as someone that is employed full time. As long as you bring real value to the company, there is no reason why you shouldn’t feel an important member of the team. And if you don’t, you have every right to stand up and respectfully explain why you’re not happy.
No day is ever the same
One of my favourite things about working for Mission Performance is that no two days ever look the same. Since I have been working here for only a year, I have organised and attended my own networking event, sailed on the Solent, travelled to London (multiple times), attended a HubSpot Event, travelled to Stevenage, stayed at Ashridge House and much much more…
Even when I am not lucky enough to be out of the office for the day. Each day brings a new set of diverse challenges from all over the world. This allows me to connect with people from all walks of life and from all levels within an organisation. It is important to note also that no matter the calibre of the person I am dealing with not once has anyone mentioned that I am “just an apprentice”. For anyone that works in the learning and development industry, I believe there is a real appreciation for those looking to develop themselves. Whether this development takes place in a classroom or on the job. I can only hope this same respect is shown from other industries.
A unique part of learning as you go is that you can’t be afraid of getting things wrong. Due to the number of diverse situations you encounter, it is inevitable that at some point in your apprenticeship you will make a wrong decision. However, I have learned that no matter how bad the mistake seems at the time, there is almost always a way to resolve it and as a result, you would have learned what not to do in the future. The most important part of making a mistake is ensuring that you don’t repeat it.
Reflecting on my journey
I completed my level 3 apprenticeship in digital marketing in March, just 10 months after I enrolled. I even have my certificates to prove it. Meaning I can now reflect on how far I have come since I started in May 2017.
Not only has my knowledge and appreciation for digital marketing and social media developed considerably, I can also see a huge difference in myself. From when I first started to now, my confidence has increased considerably. I am now completely at home delivering a presentation in front of a room full of people, something that would have petrified me this time last year. Thinking back, this time last year a phone call with a stranger was enough to put me on edge. I also have the self-belief to no longer rely on others to make the difficult decisions because I trust my own judgement. But most importantly, I no longer feel like I need to fit in a mould because I now see that I can create my own mould.
These so-called ‘soft skills’ have by far had the greatest impact on my development and are now vital to my everyday job role. Which makes me question why they were never taught in school or college? There is such a strong focus on someones technical ability that it is often forgotten that without having the ability to communicate and the confidence to share ideas, it would be impossible for anyone to be successful in the workplace.
So, the biggest takeaway from my apprenticeship? Teach people real life skills if you want them to succeed, don’t rely on their knowledge of English, Maths and Science to see them through their future career.